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County Asked to Post Millions as Jail Land’s Price Is Appealed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While an appeals court decides the case, the county should put up at least $22.9 million, $36.8 million or, better yet, all $55.6 million a jury said it owes Roque de la Fuente II for seizing land to build the East Mesa jail, the developer’s lawyer said in legal papers.

De la Fuente’s attorneys filed the legal papers Wednesday, asking San Diego Superior Court Jeffrey T. Miller to order the county at a Jan. 24 hearing to deposit at least one of those sums. Any of the three would be substantially more than the $6.4 million the county put up when it took the 525 acres in 1987, the lawyers said.

Any governmental body may legally seize land under the eminent domain powers of the federal Constitution. But state law says the seizure may occur only after a court deposit of the probable value of the land--in anticipation of a legal fight over its worth--and the attorneys said the land obviously has been judged now to be worth much more than $6.4 million.

The jury verdict, returned Sept. 28, was for $55.6 million, so that was the most appropriate figure, the lawyers said. County officials have said, however, that the financially beleaguered county cannot afford to freeze that kind of cash.

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In a ruling last month, Miller said he figured the land was worth $22.9 million. The attorneys said the county ought to deposit at least that much.

But, the lawyers suggested, $36.8 million--a figure between $22.9 million and $55.6 million that takes into account complex calculations in the case--would be acceptable.

The East Mesa jail, now under construction, is situated near the U.S.-Mexico border, about 7 miles east of Interstate 805.

At the trial, De la Fuente’s lawyers argued that the site, which is next to a state prison and surrounded by mountains, is ideally suited for a jail. The jury agreed, rejecting the county’s contention that the site would be best used for homes.

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Still to be determined are the amount of De la Fuente’s attorneys’ fees and the interest accrued on the final verdict. The lawyers had asked for $15.4 million in fees but that request, originally scheduled to be heard next Monday, is on hold pending an appellate court decision.

The appeals process--the case moves next to the 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego--could take months.


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